by Dennis Dalman
Dozens of St. Cloud Somali residents gathered on the afternoon of Oct. 21 at Lake George in St. Cloud for a prayer vigil and a show of solidarity after a terrorist bombing in their home country sent shock waves far and wide.
The vigil at Lake George also followed other developments that brought concern to the Somalis who live in the cities of the greater St. Cloud area. Those developments include more vandalism to an Islamic center in Bloomington and the death in the terrorist bombing of a Somali man from Bloomington. In a more local development, a St. Cloud City Council member has made a proposal to place a temporary moratorium on any and all refugees to the St. Cloud area.
At the Lake George vigil, there were prayers recited from several faiths. All who participated, including many non-Somalis, prayed for peace, unity and a condemnation of violence wherever it happens. The vigil was organized by Zamzam Mohamud, a young woman; and Ahmed Ali. Both live in the St. Cloud area.
Among the non-Somalis who attended the vigil were St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis and Catholic Bishop Donald Kettler, who both offered their condolences, their support and prayers for solidarity, peace, unity and a condemnation of violence.
The following are summaries of recent developments that have caused such deep concern among Somalis and of people of good will everywhere:
On Oct. 14, a truck bomb exploded at a busy intersection in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia in East Africa. The bomb, believed to have been detonated by the extremist group that calls itself al-Shabaab, killed more than 350 people and injured hundreds.
Since there is only one hospital in Mogadishu, surviving victims had to be airlifted to facilities in Turkey and nearby East African countries, Kenya and Sudan.
Among those killed was Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow of Bloomington, the father of three young children. Eyow had returned to Somalia to visit relatives and to apply for a job with the United Nations. He had just checked into the Safari Hotel and was resting when the shattering bomb exploded, killing him instantly. He had planned the next day to apply for the United Nations job in hopes he could help his home country and its long-suffering people who have been decimated by three decades of strife, warfare and starvation.
Eyow was a member of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, which was bombed on the morning of Aug. 4 while about a dozen people were at the center for a morning prayer gathering. No one was injured. The perpetrators of the bombing have not yet been arrested.
On Oct. 8, that same Bloomington Islamic Center was broken into and vandalized. That crime also has not yet been solved. Throughout recent years, the same kinds of vandalism have plagued Islamic facilities in the St. Cloud area.
According to news reports, Eyow, who was born in Somalia in 1967, had to flee when the government disintegrated in 1991, causing outbreaks of chaos and violence. Like millions of other Somalis, he became a refugee in refugee camps as a civil war and other forms of strife and suffering tore the country apart. After a long time of being vetted, Eyow was allowed to come to the United States in 1998, and he soon settled in Minnesota, where he married and raised his three children. Working as a welder, he missed his home country and longed to return. Like many Minnesota Somalis, he searched for ways he could help his country and its people – directly or indirectly. His dream was to bring stability to Somalia so the processes of peace and democracy could take root. Eyow earned a bachelor’s degree in human services just last year.
Call for moratorium
Two weeks ago, St. Cloud City Council member Jeff Johnson, who represents the city’s Fourth Ward, has requested a temporary moratorium on any refugee resettlement in St. Cloud.
Johnson said before any more refugees are allowed, there should be a full accounting of how city residents’ tax money is being spent on refugee support. Johnson said he would also like Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, which is one organization that helps refugees, to prove it’s in full compliance with federal requirements. Johnson’s temporary moratorium would apply only to “primary” refugees, which are people who come from other countries and then move right away to St. Cloud.
Groups and individuals, statewide and locally, have strongly denounced Johnson’s proposal, using adjectives such as “embarrassing” and “despicable.”
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis has noted many times St. Cloud does not pay any funds for refugee resettlement. Those kinds of funds come through the counties via the federal government, he has stated.
Kleis said the city council should focus not on moratoriums but rather how to make the city a welcoming and prosperous place for all of its residents. At its last meeting, the council voted 5-1 (Johnson voting no) to approve a resolution calling St. Cloud a “just and welcoming community.” Council member George Hontos was not at the council meeting when the vote was taken.
Johnson’s moratorium proposal may be discussed at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6 at the St. Cloud City Council meeting, St. Cloud City Hall at 400 Second St. S.
Another opponent of the moratorium proposal is UniteCloud, a group of people of all faiths and cultures who promote cross-cultural understanding, communication, education and kindness among all residents in the St. Cloud area. The group and its website were founded by Natalie Ringsmuth of Waite Park and Hassan Yussuf of St. Cloud.
UniteCloud will sponsor a meeting for cultural understanding from 6-8:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Sartell. All are welcome to attend the meeting, which will feature a panel comprised of local Muslim residents and a question-and-answer session.
For more about UniteCloud, see its website at www.unitecloud.org.
Somalis in Minnesota have started a fundraising effort to help in the aftermath of the bombing in Mogadishu. They hope to raise $100,000 to help the victims, many of whom were severely burned and lacerated.
For more information or to contribute, go to: gofundme.com/resilience-and-recovery-for-victims.
Author: Janelle Von Pinnon
Von Pinnon has been publishing the St. Joseph Newsleader since 1989, the Sartell-St. Stephen Newsleader since 1995 and the Sauk Rapids-Rice Newsleader since 2015. She graduated from Minnesota State University-Moorhead with degrees in mass communications (with an emphasis on print journalism) and biology. She lives in southeast St. Cloud with her husband and two children.